Roumania and Margaret Peters at Tuskegee Institute (University), c. 1937 – 1941 (Courtesy photo)
Roumania and Margaret Peters at Tuskegee Institute (University), c. 1937 – 1941 (Courtesy photo)

Professional talent scouts the world over often attest to the fact that natural, home-spun talent remains largely overlooked on the nation’s blacktops, within urban choirs, and other intellectual centers. Few examples exemplify this like the dynamic talent of Georgetown tennis players, Roumania and Margaret Peters.

Between the late 1930s to the early 1950s, the sisters, affectionately nicknamed Pete (Margaret) and Repeat (Roumania), dominated the Black tennis circuit. Touring with the American Tennis Association, the nation’s most prolific African-American sports club, the sisters’ records would eventually include winning 14 doubles titles in 15 years. The American Tennis Association (ATA) founded on November 30, 1916 by more than a dozen Black tennis clubs is an all-black tennis association that functioned parallel to the white-only United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA).Trained on the Rose Park playground across from their Georgetown home, the Peters sisters often practiced for hours each day to perfect their considerable techniques.

Roumania Peters and Althea Gibson at Wilberforce College (University) (Courtesy photo)

“These young girls were the precursors to Althea Gibson, Venus and Serena Williams, and Naomi Osaka, in the sense that they would not allow the restrictions and barriers placed in their way to stop them from achieving their goals,” sports historian Jarricka Ward told The Informer. “The Peters sisters challenged racism – whether experienced in Georgetown, towns surrounding Tuskegee, or on the world stage – by whipping the tails of their opponents and shutting the mouths of the naysayers.”

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Born in 1915 and 1917, Margaret and Roumania lived at 2710 O St. in Georgetown as teenagers and taught themselves to play tennis. In 1935 Cleveland Leigh Abbot, the athletic director of Tuskegee Institute (University) in Alabama, offered Margaret a full scholarship to attend the school, but she reportedly declined the offer – offering to accept a year later, once her sister graduated from high school and they could attend together. “Tuskegee at this time was among the most sought-after universities in the nation for Blacks – especially athletes, many of whom were making names for themselves and the athletic department on international stages,” Ward said. “To have one sister decline in order to usher in her sister, was an amazing testament to their love for each other, as well as the sport itself.”

From 1937-1941 the sisters won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship and were four-time ATA National Tournament doubles Champions from 1938-1941.

The camaraderie developed between the sisters also made for a quiet and soft competition; the type shared between siblings. In a 1960s interview Roumania said:

“One time [Margaret] would win this tournament; the next time I’d win the tournament. Then the next time she’d win the tournament, then I’d win the next. And so on, and we kept it going like that and every year we still won the doubles. No one in college beat us in the doubles so that’s how we reviewed so many so many trophies because we’d each bring about two trophies apiece from the schools.”

In 1941, both graduated with bachelor’s degrees in physical education. Following their retirement from the ATA in the early 1950s, Margaret and Roumania earned master’s degrees and worked in the D.C. Public Schools, and the Department of Recreation’s summer tennis camp at Rose Park. Many of her protégés went on to receive four-year-athletic scholarships to college. In 2015, the DC Government officially dedicated the Rose Park Tennis Courts to Margaret and Roumania Peters.

Dr. Shantella Y. Sherman

Dr. Shantella Sherman is a historian and journalist who serves as the Informer's Special Editions Editor. Dr. Sherman is the author of In Search of Purity: Eugenics & Racial Uplift Among New Negroes...

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